Not a great week, but let’s not get carried away with the pessimism eh?
09:19 05 September 2015
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Well that was a week to forget. At Southampton a performance that was already sloppy and lacking in energy even before Steven Whittaker’s five minutes of madness, and further signs of defensive frailty thereafter, ensured that all the pre-game optimism amongst the Yellow Army congealed into that horrible feeling in the pit of the stomach that we’ve rarely experienced in Alex Neil’s tenure.
While Whittaker will inevitably be the whipping boy for Sunday’s loss the reality is that City barely looked at the races before his departure, with John Ruddy having to recapture his international call-up form to keep the Canaries on level terms and Cameron Jerome inexplicably getting himself in a tangle with the Southampton goal gaping in front of him.
It was a strangely subdued performance and, unsurprisingly, Alex Neil demonstrated ruthless honesty in his post-match assessment but it’s vital to keep a sense of perspective. Southampton are a good side and playing for over 60 minutes with 10 men, several of whom were significantly under par, was always likely to end badly. Just as it was important not to get too carried away after the win at Sunderland, so it is necessary to appreciate that City’s season wasn’t defined by events at St Mary’s.
Nevertheless, it was a salutary reminder of two things. The first of these is that this City side are going to have off days, and secondly that when they occur in such a tough league they are likely to be ruthlessly punished.
What must change though is the current wastefulness in front of goal and the tendency of defending players (including midfielders) to watch the ball rather than the man they are marking. We have seen it cost goals in each of the four league games so far and Neil will be determined to stamp it out before the visit of Bournemouth.
And so to the transfer window. On a positive front the arrival of Dieumerci Mbokani offers an exciting and unpredictable new element to City’s attacking threat, while Matt Jarvis, if he can rediscover the form that made him an England player, is the type of creative left winger that City have missed since the departure of Anthony Pilkington.
However, there was inevitably concern amongst fans at the failure to secure another centre back option following the departure of Carlos Cuellar, Ignasi Miquel and Michael Turner. This is the area where City look thin in terms of cover, although it’s worth noting that many Liverpool fans see centre back as Andre Wisdom’s best position.
But of course, the biggest issue on deadline day itself, and the cause of a massive meltdown on social media, was the late and unexpected sale of last year’s Player of the Season, Bradley Johnson.
Johnson has become an iconic figure at the club and the reaction is understandable to a point, but realistically, with Youssouf Mulumbu, Graham Dorrans, Johnny Howson and Alex Tettey apparently ahead of him in the pecking order for central midfield and Robbie Brady and Jarvis offering genuine wide left options a dispassionate view would be that it represented a good deal for both club and player.
I suspect that had the incomings been more numerous or had City won at Southampton the reaction wouldn’t have been quite so strong, but there is no doubt that the overriding mood among fans on Wednesday morning was one of disappointment and apprehension.
Perhaps the international break is, for once, coming at a good time, allowing time for a sense or perspective to develop. The world hasn’t ended and the squad has been enhanced in terms of striking and wing options while shedding some fringe players. Feelings may be running high, but let’s wait and see how things turn out before judging too harshly.